Hate (6): Hate Crime

Practically all crime is “thought crime” in the good ol’ common law sense of the Latin phrase actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea – the act does not make guilt unless the mind be guilty. If we were to take a strict liability approach to all violent crime we would be obliged to place wrongful death on a par with premeditated murder. (After all, it’s not as though the lives of those killed accidentally are worth less.) John Holbo (source)

This nicely debunks the claim that hate crime laws – laws which make the punishment for an existing crime more severe when the crime was motivated by hate for the segment of the population to which the victims belongs – institute “thought crimes” and make thoughts, opinion and beliefs illegal. I believe that hateful motives are aggravating circumstances that should make a penalty more severe. A hate crime is not only a crime against the immediate victim, but is intended to terrorize a whole segment of the population. It creates therefore more victims than is apparent at first sight.

When you mistakenly believe that hate crime laws create thought crimes, you have to conclude that proponents of hate crime laws do not want to punish behavior but want to eradicate hate, or at least reduce the levels of hatred in a society. And then you have a cheap shot: how stupid to want to eradicate hate! Haha! (There’s an example of this kind of reasoning here*). Indeed, that would be stupid, if that’s what proponents of hate crime laws would propose. But they don’t. They simply want to punish crimes, and want to punish a specific kind of crime in a specific – and especially tough – way. They know that there will always be hate, that hate is the price to pay for a free society. Maybe hate crime laws can reduce the amount of hate in a society, but that’s not the main purpose. Hate crime laws want to punish behavior and want to protect people from fear. And they want to signal that society has understood the difference between hate crimes and other types of crimes, even if these other types of crimes have the same material results.

* The article linked to also irresponsibly blurs the differences between hate speech and hate crime. When you do that, it’s of course much easier to attack hate crime laws because then it becomes much more “obvious” that hate crime laws are “in fact” thought crimes.

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One thought on “Hate (6): Hate Crime

  1. Other than, perhaps, motor vehicle homicide and negligent driving, what crime does not include among its elements a wrongful/criminal state of mind? And for non-hate crimes judges are allowed to take into consideration the convicted defendant’s level of malice, as well as his crime’s effect on the community as a whole, when meting out a sentence. There were, therefore, prior to the introduction of “hate crimes,” methods for judges/society to elevate the punishment to fit the crime. “Hate crimes” are, at best, a redundancy. At their worst, they elevate certain victims. For a society that is supposedly working toward improving relations between the various races, how exactly does enshrining a law that creates further disparities enhance the prospects of racial reconciliation? These laws also enhance the power of prosecutors. Since minorities are prosecuted more often than their white counterparts, how does it benefit them to arm prosecutors with more laws with which to prosecute them? Finally, “hate crimes” do not reduce hate; instead these laws only drive hate underground where it can fester. In short, you can’t punish away hate. Here is an interesting article on the misuse of power by prosecutors: http://www.relentlessdefense.com/prosecutors.html

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